1818 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Matthew Prior

William Hazlitt, in Lectures on the English Poets (1818, 1909) 141-42.



Prior has left no single work equal to Gay's Fables or the Beggar's Opera. But in his lyrical and fugitive pieces he has shown even more genius, more playfulness, more mischievous gaiety. No one has exceeded him in the laughing grace with which he glances at a subject that will not bear examining, with which he gently hints at what cannot be directly insisted on, with which he half conceals and half draws aside the veil from some of the Muses's nicest mysteries. His Muse is, in fact, a giddy, wanton flirt, who spends her time in playing at snap-dragon and blindman's buff, who tells what she should not, and knows more than she tells. She laughs at the tricks she shows us, and blushes, or would be thought to do so, at what she keeps concealed.... Some of Prior's bon-mots are the best that are recorded. His serious poetry, as his Solomon, is as heavy as his familiar style was light and agreeable. His moral Muse is a Magdalen, and should not have obtruded herself on public view.